The Covid-19 pandemic and the public health restrictions that followed have undoubtably disrupted young people’s education. It was not until recently that we began to understand the full effects of this disruption.
For example, recent research from the Sutton Trust found, of the young people surveyed, 80% agreed that their academic progress had suffered due to the pandemic. Within the same study, of those young people who had made future education and/or career plans pre-pandemic, 64% reported that their educational plans had changed, and 60% reported that their career plans had changed since the start of the pandemic.
Young people’s mental health has also been adversely affected by the pandemic. For example, recent research conducted by the Department for Education focused on the experiences of young people aged 16–19 during the pandemic. The study found that many young people felt anxious, isolated, and demotivated, with many participants saying they would have “benefited from more personalised wellbeing and academic support”.
Educators and policymakers alike have a responsibility to support student wellbeing. Wellbeing is more than just physical or mental health. Wellbeing is about the development of the whole person: body, mind, relationships, and even how individuals find meaning in life. By focusing on students’ wellbeing, we can boost not only their exam results, but also their life chances.
A recent impact study found that student wellbeing can be linked to improved academic attainment and other educational outcomes. But this isn’t just about exam results. The study showed that whole-school approaches to promoting wellbeing can have positive effects on a wide range of other student outcomes, including mental health, self-esteem, self-efficacy, motivation, and behaviour. These results transcended geographic, linguistic and cultural boundaries.
A smaller study in Denmark came to similar conclusions. An intervention designed to foster wellbeing in vocational/agricultural schools for students aged 16+ was found to reduce dropout rates. One possible explanation might be that students with increased wellbeing are able to look to their futures with a more motivated and positive outlook.
In summary, the evidence shows that wellbeing support is critical to improve students’ life chances. For this lockdown generation, every leader’s strategic approach to their learning needs to include wellbeing support. The question now is: how?
Embedding wellbeing into the curriculum
The impact study revealed that implementation is key. Educators should look to embed wellbeing in the curriculum. This means offering high-quality continued professional development to staff, and ensuring that a focus on wellbeing is integrated as much as possible into daily practice and school culture. Of course, for any wellbeing initiative to succeed, it needs the full support of the whole-school community. This includes senior management, teachers, students, parents/carers, and the wider community. Actively engaging all of these stakeholders is key to the successful implementation of wellbeing initiatives. Finally, don’t forget to monitor any wellbeing initiative so that you can be sure it is having the desired effect.
This generation of learners has come through a period like no other at a formative stage in their lives. They are changing their education and career plans as they look to an unclear and uncertain future.
As educators, we must do what we can to give them the resilience and motivation that will carry them through their lives. The results of the impact study make clear that wellbeing is a key to unlocking their potential. It’s time now to put this into action; in every school, in every college, and in every university.
Dr Penelope Woolf is Director of Impact at Oxford University Press. She has over 30 years’ experience in academic, educational and professional publishing, including consulting for universities and EdTech companies. She is an Honorary Norham Fellow at the Department of Education, University of Oxford, and was a Special Educational Needs governor and Chair of Impact Committee at a UK Primary school. At OUP, she leads a team supporting colleagues across the world to evaluate OUP’s educational products and services, to better understand the impact that they are making on teaching and learning.